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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Switzerland, Part One (Geneva and Kanderstag) – July 23-31, 2012

“What time is it?”, asked SP.

“About 12:15--no wait, that was in French Swiss, it is 12:13 and 40 seconds in German Swiss”, I replied.

SP retorted, holding his hand out, palm up, “That will be ten francs!”

That exchange pretty much sums up our first week in Switzerland.  We have discovered that there is a French part and a German part and never the twain shall meet, except, of course, when charging you an exorbitant amount of money for, well, everything.  A tall Americano at Starbucks was $5.40; I kid you not.  And since the Swiss Franc is almost on par with the US Dollar, there is no savings to be had upon conversion.

So we decided to put the cost of Switzerland behind us in order to enjoy the beauty around us. 

With Pepper locked away at the Geneva Porsche repair shop for longer than anticipated (new brake pads [Salt is heavy!], three new tires to match the one purchased in Spain after our blow-out, oil change and about 300 other little things that were bothering us, including fixing our steering issue at high speeds—it wasn’t just us, there was a problem) we decided to leave the city for the Alps and head to Kanderstag via bus and train for two nights at the Alfa Soleil Hotel.

But first a note on Geneva:  We have been there before so it was nice to feel a little at home.  Our campground fee came with free bus passes (including two for The Noses!) and getting to downtown from the campground was a breeze.  SP took a day alone and visited CERN and I took the next one and headed downtown for some shopping.  (Finally!  A new town outfit!)  We spent one day bussing to a gondola and then up the mountainside for a delightful lunch overlooking the city.  We were surprised at the value of the Plat du Jour until we realized that we had crossed back into France.

I cannot rave about Geneva, it is not very picturesque (hence no photos in the link above) and we happened to be there when it was over 30/90 every day.  One or two days is plenty, which is why, when Day 4 arrived and we knew that we couldn’t free the Pepper, we decided to head to the mountains.

Upon arriving at the train station, we realized that SP had only priced our train tickets with one-way options--and we had thought that was expensive!  So our train budget immediately had to double.  Actually, we would have saved a lot of money had we forfeited the non-refundable hotel room and just returned to Salt, but that was unappealing after anticipating the fresh mountain air and healthy hikes.  So we pulled out the Amex and jumped on board.

I cannot say enough about the Hotel Alfa Soleil (you can see our review here on Trip Advisor), the service was exceptional and the food in Nico’s  Restaurant (run by the son) was a delight; often fresh from the garden and Lake Thun.  They pride themselves on using local ingredients so don’t be surprised to learn that the chicken you are enjoying grew up next door.

As for hiking, well, the weather was as poor as expected but we did take the gondola up to Oeschinensee Lake for a quick four mile hike the day we arrived, returning to the hotel drenched from a thunder storm.  The next day we set off for Gemmipass which started with a bus ride ($30 round trip) to a gondola ($60 round trip) and then a nice long hike, strenuous in a few areas, reaching the pass after six miles. 

Over coffee in the restaurant at the pass, SP asked, “What time does the gondola stop running?”  With my stomach dropping, I looked it up on the map and the last run was at 6:00 p.m.  It was 4:30 and we were six miles from the gondola.  This was not good.  So we brainstormed some options:

1)      Take a different gondola down the other side of the pass, drop into the town, search for a bus and then a train back to Kanderstag (not to mention searching for a credit card with some limit still on it), hoping that the trains will run that late on a Sunday night; or

2)      Walk back the way we came, obviously forgoing the gondola as we would never make it back by 6:00, adding another two miles straight down the mountain to our already sore feet; making our total hike over 14 miles, or 23 KM.  Not to mention it was likely to end in the dark.

So . . . after seeing the look on the nice French people at the table next to us when I asked about a bus and train combination back to Kanderstag from the opposite side of the mountain (deep breath in, slow blowing out of air through billowing cheeks, a slight rolling of the eyes which terminated in looks of pity; universal meaning:  “You are up #*%! creek”) we opted for going back the way we came.

It was a long, long hike. The fog rolled in and for most of the way back we could only see about five feet in front of us.  With aching knees and two very tired Noses, we dragged ourselves to the bus stop only to find that we had missed the last bus.  It was 9:00 p.m.  Desperate, we opted to ask for a taxi at the closed, but still occupied, restaurant next door. 

The workers were having a drink at the end of their day when I knocked on the window.  They spoke no French and no English and I spoke no German but we managed “taxi”, “Hotel Alfa Soleil” and “ten minutes.”  Apparently a nice lady would give us a ride on her way home.  But while we waited outside, I noticed her peak out the window and take notice of The Noses.  The curtain sharply closed and I feared our ride was over.  At this point, tired and aching, I had no choice but to pimp out SP.

That’s right, I asked him to stand up and limp around making sure they could see his brace in the glare from the street lamp.  He rolled up his shorts a bit to completely expose the brace; we had no shame. 

Out came a gentleman, who, after laying a blanket in the back of his car, invited the dogs inside.  We climbed in the back seat and he then proceeded to follow the nice lady’s car back to Kanderstag to our hotel.  We were eternally grateful and, just like the French families’ looks of “!*(# creek”, I am sure he could read ours of, “You saved us.”

Upon entering the hotel we were warmly greeted and invited to enjoy dinner even allowing time for a quick shower.  Incredible service, like I said.  We kept the kitchen crew up later than normal but were just as enthralled with dinner and the service as the night before.  I opted for the home-made pesto pasta—yes, fresh basil was actually ground into the pasta dough—delicious! And we thoroughly enjoyed a local wine recommendation from the host.

You can imagine how difficult the next day was; not only did we have to get up (ouch), pack (sweaty, stinky hiking clothes), and leave our gorgeous room but we then had to put our packs back on, walk to the train station, take two trains and a bus to get back to Geneva—all in time to pick up Pepper.  But hey, if you have to arrive somewhere exhausted, why not a Porsche showroom?  Leather couches, fresh coffee, juice and a small rug for a little Crazy Dog.  Oh yes he did.

By 5:30 Pepper was ready and wow, is he running like a dream!  We have landed in Chateau D’Oex, a lovely village nestled at the base of the Alps.  We have two hikes planned but unless they completely knock our socks off, we are likely to head to the Italian Dolomites where we might just be able to afford a latte.  Maybe even a Grande this time.